Power Hour Meal Prep

How to Prep a Classic Thanksgiving Menu in Just 3 Hours the Sunday Before the Holiday

updated Nov 17, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewcyzk

Hosting any holiday meal takes a lot of work, but it’s especially tricky with a holiday like Thanksgiving that falls in the middle of the work week. That’s why this year, it could be a smart idea to prep the vast majority of a Thanksgiving dinner menu the weekend before the holiday. 

Not only does prepping leave you with less day-of stress, but the food in this menu also actually benefits from being made in advance. For example, the stuffing absorbs the flavors of the sausage, celery, and onions as it sits, while the cranberry sauce has time to chill and intensify in flavor. Here’s how to use your Power Hour Meal Prep session to prep a classic Thanksgiving menu in just three hours on the Sunday before your big feast. I’ll also walk you through what needs to happen day-of to put the final touches on this Thanksgiving feast.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewcyzk

Thanksgiving Prep Goals

  • Appetizer and dessert: Making the appetizer in its entirety ahead of time means guests can snack on it while you finish preparing the turkey and sides. Having the dessert already made also lets you relax during dinner.
  • Make-ahead sides: I like to get most of the side dishes completely prepped ahead so they can just be baked or reheated the day of. This includes the rolls, the potatoes, and the stuffing.
  • Last-minute sides: You’ll prep a few things for the green bean casserole and Thanksgiving slaw during Power Hour, but most of the assembly will happen day-of.
  • The turkey and gravy: Dry-brined turkey is the prep-ahead cook’s best friend (all you have to do on Thanksgiving is roast it). You’ll also make the gravy ahead of time.
  • Hosting goals: This three-hour prep isn’t going to eliminate cooking on Thanksgiving day entirely, but it is going to significantly reduce it. This frees you up to run a turkey trot, watch the parade, clean your house for company, or simply sleep in!

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot 

  • Feeds: 8 to 10 people
  • Total prep time: Three hours 
  • Thanksgiving day cooking: About three hours


Appetizer: Classic Cheeseball with crudités

Make ahead side dishes:

Last-minute side dishes:

Shopping List

If you can, do your shopping on the Saturday before the holiday, so that you don’t have to shop and prep on the same day. Almost all of the vegetables called for are sturdy enough to last until Thursday. I opted for fresh green beans for the casserole, but the original recipe calls for frozen — if you go for frozen, that will shave a little time off your prep session.

This list assumes you have staples like Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on hand.

  • Bakery: 1 (1- to 1 1/2-pound) loaf crusty bread
  • Wine: 1/2 cup dry white wine or dry sherry
  • Produce: 2 large yellow onions, 1 medium red onion, 1 head garlic, 3 pounds small russet potatoes, 2 large carrots, 7 celery stalks, 4 large multi-colored bell peppers, 2 English cucumbers, 12 ounces white button or cremini mushrooms, 1 small head green cabbage, 1 bunch fresh thyme, 1 bunch fresh parsley, 1 bunch fresh sage, thyme, or oregano, 4 oranges, 2 1/2 pounds (40 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries, 1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen green beans
  • Meat: 1 (12- to 15-pound) whole turkey, 2 to 4 pounds bone-in turkey pieces, 1 pound sausage 
  • Dairy/Refrigerated: 5 large eggs, 1 pound unsalted butter, 4 1/2 cups whole milk, 8 ounces sour cream, 8 ounces cream cheese, 8 ounces goat cheese or Boursin, 1 (14.1-ounce) package prepared pie crusts
  • Pantry: 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons maple syrup, 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, nonstick cooking spray, 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 1/2 quarts low-sodium chicken or turkey broth, 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon dry active yeast, 1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 2 (6-ounce) cans fried onions, such as French’s Fried Onions, 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée, 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk, 3/4 cup roasted pecans or walnuts, 1 cup walnuts, 3/4 cup sliced almonds, 3/4 cup dried cranberries
Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewcyzk

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done on Sunday

  1. Start the Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce. This is a dump-and-stir recipe that is completely hands-off once you get everything into the slow cooker. If you cook it on HIGH, it will be ready for storage just around the time you’re finished prepping.
  2. Mix up the Dinner Rolls and get them shaped and ready for freezing. These soft and tender dinner rolls can be mixed, proofed, shaped, and then frozen. Get the dough mixed and rising while you prep the pies, then shape and freeze after you make the potato casserole.
  3. Prep and bake the Easy 5-Ingredient Mini Pumpkin Pies and cool before freezing. These pumpkin pies are super easy, cute, and take up less room in the freezer than a full pie. Remember to wrap them tightly before freezing. (You’ll thaw them in the fridge on Wednesday alongside the rolls.)
  4. Prepare the Make-Ahead Mashed Potato CasseroleThis recipe gets even better with a few days in the fridge. Boil and mash the potatoes, then completely assemble the casserole. Cover with foil and pop it in the refrigerator so it’s ready for the oven on Thursday.
  5. Prepare the Sausage and Sage Stuffing through step 5. I recommend skipping the apple called for in the recipe so it doesn’t get brown or make the stuffing soggy. Also omit the egg in step 4 (you’ll add it later). Otherwise, prepare the recipe as written through step 5, then cover the casserole and transfer it to the refrigerator. On Thursday, you’ll just pour the broth and egg over the bread, sausage, and cooked veggies, then bake.
  6. Shave cabbage for Thanksgiving Slaw and toast nuts for cheeseball. 
  7. Mix up the Classic Cheeseball and chop crudités vegetables. I get the entire cheeseball and the veggies ready and even put them on a serving platter so l can pull it out and serve on Thursday.
  8. Trim green beans and chop mushrooms for Classic Green Bean Casserole. If you are using fresh green beans, trim and blanch them, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. If you’re using frozen green beans, you can simply transfer them to the fridge on Wednesday night or Thursday morning to thaw.
  9. Make salad dressing for Thanksgiving Slaw. Combine the ingredients for the dressing for the Thanksgiving slaw in a jar with a tight lid and store it in the refrigerator.
  10. Make the compound butter for the Maple and Black Pepper Turkey and make the Make-Ahead Gravy. Combine the ingredients for the compound butter and store it in the fridge. If your turkey is thawed enough to do so, remove the neck and use it to make turkey stock for the gravy.
Credit: Kitchn

Turkey Day Game Plan

Getting the majority of the prep out of the way on Sunday means the biggest time commitment you have on Thursday is roasting the turkey. Get the turkey going first, then bake the other sides alongside it (with the adjusted cook times below).

Wednesday Night

  1. Thaw the pumpkin pies and the dinner rolls overnight in the fridge. Take them out of the freezer on Wednesday and place them in the fridge to thaw overnight.


  1. Rub the compound butter under the skin of the turkey. At least five hours before you want to serve dinner, remove the compound butter from the fridge and allow it to soften until it’s spreadable. Then rub it under the skin of the turkey, following the recipe instructions.
  2. Roast the turkey at 350°F. Next up, get that turkey in the oven and then move on to the rest of the final prep. Cooking the turkey should take 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours total with a goal of 165°F in the deepest part of the breast when tested with a probe thermometer. After roasting, rest the turkey for 30 minutes.
  3. Assemble the Thanksgiving Slaw. Up to two hours before serving, remove the dressing from the fridge and let it come up to room temperature, then shake to recombine. Assemble the slaw, add the dressing, and let sit at room temperature until ready to serve.
  4. Finish the dinner rolls. Remove the rolls from the fridge and proof at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours. Bake at 350°F for 18 to 22 minutes.
  5. Bake the Make-Ahead Potato Casserole. Bake the casserole at 350°F for 1 hour.
  6. Make the Green Bean Casserole. Make recipe as written and cook the at 350°F for 12 to 15 minutes.
  7. Finish and bake the stuffing. Pour the broth over the stuffing, cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes at 350°F. You can start the stuffing during the turkey’s last 30 minutes in the oven, increase the heat to 400°F, and uncover and crisp the stuffing while the turkey rests.
  8. Reheat the gravy on low. Do this just after carving the turkey but before bringing it to the table.
  9. Crisp the pumpkin pies. After dinner, reheat the pumpkin pies for 3 to 5 minutes in a 350°F oven.

Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with an hour or two of Power Hour prep over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.